Dancing.

DSC_1383There were quite a few of us, not quite enough for there to be too many or so many, but we were treated like an uncontrollable mass. Nobody was one body, we were items grouped into two types; There were The Dancers and the Background, but it soon transpired the Background were also dancers, only myself and a few wet-palmed others were definitely Not Dancers. But two groups was easier than two-and-a-bit, so our out-of-time faction was amalgamated into a lithe, energetic majority of ‘Background Dancers’.

We sat slumped in Argos-collection-point listlessness, waiting to be called up and fitted and made-up and brushed and time-travelled back to 1930’s America.
‘Short Hair’, to your correction point please.
I had the perfect hair-do from the front, which was my ticket into this particular shoot, but from the back I was a 21st Century Tom-Boy and that would not do. Juan sat me down and wordlessly consulted the hair which grew through my scalp, then formally introduced it to hair that had once grown through someone else’s scalp, but now lived in a box, plaited and disembodied.
The wig was not the same colour match and having so little of my own at the back, had very little to be attached to. Juan did his best to fasten it instead to the thin skin that stretched across my skull and knew with every wince and gasp that he was doing a job well done.

“I’ll take this one.” I was being gesticulated at by a Man in a Hurry, which meant stand up and follow. “I haven’t been…” I waved at my face, “I don’t have make-up,” said my normal sized mouth to the Man in a Hurry. He looked at my face, then at the mass of Others and then back at my face but never at me. He then chose someone else in a similar coloured dress and left with her instead. Shortly after I was then called to have my face corrected and my eyelashes darkened and my mouth made to look bigger and redder, which is more attractive and better to time-travel into the 1930’s America with.

A long time passed because being a part of an advert or a TV show or film (and not being a part of the crew) means there is a lot of time spent immovably travelling between moments of significance. Like the universe, there are a lot of exciting pretty things to see but most of it is nothing.

There was a human-shaped ball of energy in the Dance Hall. I couldn’t imagine her reading a novel or napping and she would definitely live forever. She bounded around the room and produced electricity which brightened the lights and powered the people who were not already powered by cynicism and embarrassment. Every movement she made was choreographed and with such precision as to make the muscles that already bulged through her lycra, sing and strain for attention. I envied and despaired. I was embarrassed behind my cynicism. I then had to dance.

I don’t dance.

December 2011 saw myself and the HR and Customer Service team dressed up in 1980’s garb, attending a 1980’s themed dinner and disco party. I had bought a Vintage Dress and someone had kindly curled my hair, painted my nails and pasted my face with lurid colours.
The dinner easily could have been served on a plane but the company was very pleasant and the atmosphere of pre-christmas celebration, infectious. Fuelled by double Gin & Tonics and surrounded by non-threatening mumsie types, I took to the dance floor and gyrated with the rest. I joked and flailed and danced in accordance with the era- with my shoulders and elbows. It was amusing and I enjoyed the laughter, then when I returned to swaying to the music in my default setting, and the laughing continued, I was slightly unnerved by not entirely devastated. From that point on I felt I could, for short bursts, in an ironic way, comfortably dance with others but never seriously, it was never called dancing… bopping, shuffling, having a boogy but never ‘Dancing’.

“My hair has fallen off!” I whimpered to the makeup lady back in 1930’s America. The sweat from my head had loosed all the sharp pins and left my syrup hanging off like a botched execution. The sweat from my body had soaked through my dress too, my £200 a day, hired for 10 days, authentic, straw-coloured, 1930’s dress. The sweat had left me thirsty and blinded and shocked that it was possible for so much liquid to escape through seemingly watertight skin.
I had been dancing, with ascending energy for what must have been at least one or two broken up hours and I was ready to drop along with my wig. What had not dropped was my on-going horror that I was being Made to Dance and Made to Dance on a production that would be seen by millions too. And not just by myself, I had to dance with another non-dancing extra, who was interesting and handsome and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. “Having fun yet?” he panted through the big-band swing sounds, his once slicked-back hair vying for an energetic breakdance solo.
He did not seem to be so surprised by the bodily water, and was neither impressed not amused by my sweat-related narration. This would not be a story to tell our grand-children.

Time passed and the dancing continued and nothing changed. The dancers, the people who were there to dance officially, loved every moment and were far sweatier than me and yet still had such spark, even after hours of flipping and lifting and jumping and lightning-fast footwork, they still had energy and they selflessly gave their energy to us. We, who were there to move very little or to walk a bit or have nonsensical silent conversations with one another and who were Not There To Dance were flagging dangerously. After 4 or 5 hours of on-off wild dancing in the background, the cameras had now turned on us and no amount of stern direction could hide the fact we were not Overwhelmed with Jubilation by the Amazing Music as Out of Control Live-Wires of Raw Dance Energy. We were tired and sweaty.

So the dancers who had been making magic with their bodies and a mockery of gravity, left their moment of rest to altruistically join us off camera to jive and clap us along, to transfer their unquashable spirits and give energy to the apathetic. I jived and bopped and grinned and grimaced and hated them all passionately.

The night ended slowly in a cruel sputter. After the dancing it was time to go home, but we had signed contracts that meant we would not be paid over-time if we went into it, so naturally had to stay and stay for no more pay.
Inside had been a sauna and outside was a refreshing dunk into the north sea. And then it was just an on going coldness with all the dance-sweat transformed into frigid, prying fingers. I longed to be inside the noisy hotbox again.
I was an extra, finally, and as an extra I expertly walked up and down and mimed impassioned conversations about the alphabet, different vegetables and the lyrics to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, all the while wincing from the pain in my feet which had been jammed in beautiful 30’s high heels for 14 hours.

There was more walking and miming then some quick Biscuits for Energy and then suddenly it really was time to go home. Fishies free from the net we wriggled off into the night. Half transformed time travellers, 1930’s hollow eyed Americans from the neck up and Regular Joes below.

I did not see my dance partner again, I wanted to apologise about my incessant lamentation of being Made to Dance and the vocalised discovery of my in-tights paddling pool. I wanted to let him know that I had no professional or personal objection to holding his hand while we danced other than I could barely balance with two arms to windmill. And lastly, that although I had rolled my eyes and gurned when he asked whether I was enjoying it yet, that yes, secretly, there was a bit of me revelling in the weird performance and live-wire gyration as a nobody in a sweating, dancing One Body organism.

But I still Don’t Dance.

Being a Background Artist

This is what happens when someone asks “So, what do you do?

I … I’m not sure- well I guess I’m mostly a ‘background artist’- you know, an extra in films and things. And I’m being a runner a bit too, on TV things. Oh, and I guess I’m an illustrator too

Which I realised, actually sounds quite cool! I’m earning pretty much no money, at all but I don’t really do it for the money, nor the glamour*. It’s the complete opposite to glamorous actually, extras work is mostly sitting on a bus and being a runner is mostly making tea and cleaning up, and illustration, urgh, I’ve become a bit jaded lately but lets not talk about that, lets talk about being an extra.

Firstly, I have recently been binge watching Ricky Jervais’ ‘Extras’ on Netflix and while it is very amusing (it is, watch it!) not entirely accurate on some counts, and very on others.

me and gorbsm

1. Stars 
Unlike Andy and Maggie, you are probably never going to talk to the stars, especially if they are Big Stars. Most of the time you are ushered around away from the main talent, you have a separate holding bus, separate eating area and you definitely don’t share the same toilets. The only time you might be in close proximity to your heart throb is during a scene, and unless you never want to work in film/ TV again, don’t interrupt them.

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2. Strangers
Meeting new people can be awkward for some people. You’ll either quickly get over this or decide extra-ing is not for you.
All your conversations will start with: Have you had far to come? What other agencies are you with? Have you done this much before?
These questions will then often to lead on to talk about Your Favourite Jobs, Your Worst Jobs and Which Agencies Are Best. Once these topic have run dry you’ll either have made a great friend who you can talk to all day about anything or, more likely, silence will creep in and one or both of you will wander off to find someone new to go over the same questions again. If you do want to make friends quickly, take a packet of sweets with you, boredom + chocolate = BFFL!!!

sleepy

3. Silence
You don’t have to make friends. If you’re on a shoot for a couple of days, or even just one really long one it’s nice to find a little gang of pals to hang around with but if you don’t click with anyone, or just aren’t in the mood, it’s fine. Get out your book and go have a nap in the back of the bus. It’s likely you’re never going to meet these people again anyway.

odd_one_out

4. Getting picked
Agencies will get a brief and will go through profiles trying to find suitable candidates for the film/ show. The casting people on the production will then choose from that selection who they want. You get put forward for more stuff if you are reliable and say yes to briefs. If you aren’t chosen, don’t take it personally, essentially you’re just glorified furniture and if you don’t match the decor, you’ll be left behind.

weird

5. Mad Martins
On big shoots, generally with over 200 extras, the production can afford to not be too picky with their background artists and go for quantity rather than quality, so you’re going to get a few ‘colourful characters’ in the mix. You know how you thought volunteering to kiss on camera was a good idea? A bit of fun? yolo, etc? Yeah, so did they.

snake_game

6. Entertainment
95% of being an extra is waiting. You are likely to wait all morning to be used on set and then you spend hours waiting on set to actually do something. Then you wait a life time for lunch and once that’s over you’re back to waiting for something else to do. I was on a film for two days with a call time of 8am and was left in the holding area (practically by myself) until 10pm on both days before I was called to wander VERY briefly in and out of shot.
BRING SOMETHING TO DO. A book won’t cut it, you need back ups. Cards, ipads, dominos, unicycles. Anything is better than nothing. It’s amazing how fast you can exhaust your phone. Oh yeah, and bring a charger.

debut

7. Fame
You are not an actor, you are a moving prop. You are not going to be discovered, this is not your big break. You’ve been given a line? Great! You’ll get an extra £20 but that’s it. Seriously, even if you work as a background artist for 20 years you’ll still be a background artist, just one that now plays tired parent roles rather than angry teenager ones.
HOWEVER, if you are planning on getting into acting (or production) being an extra won’t hurt, simply because it gives you a great idea of what it’s actually like to be on set and to see how stuff is made. Heres a hint: Slowly.

TV-Generation-Lead

8. Crew
The guys wandering around in shorts that look a bit like builders/ carpenters are the rigging and lighting guys. They are usually a pretty down to earth bunch who work very hard so don’t be too upset if they don’t give you the time of day, they have a proper job not some flouncy bobbing-in-and-out-of-shot-and-drinking-all-the-tea job.

 The person telling you what to do is usually the 2nd or 3rd Assistant Director. Be nice, they can decide whether you are walking past the main action or way, way in the background though, again, don’t take it too personally if it’s the latter (you are furniture).
The guy** shouting at him and occasionally shouting at everyone is the 1st AD, he is relaying everything the director wants and making it happen. If the shot looks cruddy it’s him who looks bad so he’s going to be pretty cranky if you mess up/ don’t shut up when he asks for quiet.
The runners are not at your disposal, they are generally being barked orders from all directions and although far down the pay-scale, are pretty important to the smooth running of the production. I like to chat to the runners and location assistants they will usually be quite happy to tell you what’s going on, but will often stop mid sentence, drift into a blank stare, say ‘Okay, yep, on my way’ to their collar then run off without a backwards glance.
**I use ‘guy’ and ‘he’ as I am too lazy to write ‘he/she’ and I’ve found ADs and technical crew are predominately male.

DSC_1208

9. *Lunch
When people ask me what my favourite bit of being an extra is I always tell them it’s the catering. The food on a production is generally the same food the Big Stars are getting and it is GLORIOUS. I was in a film with Jonny Depp last year and all I could talk about was the amazing Oreo cake we had for pudding. On adverts, stuff with small budgets or shoots with hundreds of extras you’ll either be given money to go find your own food or get something that will remind you of school dinners but occasionally, just occasionally you’ll get to dine in style, making all that standing around in the rain worth it.

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10. Lala land
Okay, I lie, lunch is ONE of my favourite reasons for being an extra, the other is because of the weird stuff you get to do that you’d never normally get a chance to… or even consider doing. A couple of weeks ago I was all dressed up in a girdle, suspenders and amazing hair to celebrate VD day in trafalgar square. I spent hours splashing around one of the fountains waving a union flag and trying Very Hard not to look completely numb. The week before I had been in a Norwegian receptionist at an Arctic Research Centre (in Hackney) and the other day I was running for my life behind Jack Bauer. It’s fun, it’s stupid its playing and I love it.

Claire-Danes-Cry-Face

11. Complaining
And now the bit I like the least. The extras who spend the whole experience bringing the day down for everyone else. There is usually a little posse of people who have been doing it for years and will talk about the glory days back when you could be a background artist for a living but now there are too many people on the books, the jobs they get are crap and the hours are too long and the pay is rubbish and the catering is poor and blah blah blah. Being an extra holds no weight on a production, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. You get no privileges, you are last to be fed, no one remembers your name and whining will at best, get you a little posse of miserable friends, at worst, booted off set.
If you are messed around, take it up with your agency, if you are asked to do something you don’t want to say you don’t want to do it (I was asked to climb a slippery fountain at 4am in a dress for the aforementioned VD day shoot, I said ‘no way’ and I’m still getting work) but don’t expect to get special treatment if you bend the ear off a 3rd AD about a broken lunch, they have probably missed lunch too and have been working a whole lot harder than you have.
So yeah, shut up. You know what to expect now get on with it or go work in a normal job.

And that’s a bit about being an extra! if you decide you want to give it a go I really do recommend clearing all thoughts of fame and fortune early on, else you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Just enjoy the daft ride, make some friends and eat the food.

Dream

This morning I dreamed of a disaster. I was on a hillside in Japan, in the distance were tower blocks and sky scraper buildings, and beyond that, the sea. four of the buildings were scheduled to be demolished by controlled explosions. The four buildings fell one by one and then as the last fell, it knocked into a building next to it, beginning a chain of occupied residential and business buildings falling, killing the inhabitants. Though full of horror, I quipped on the hillside that at least there was a better view of the sea now (it was a beautiful glistening blue in the golden hour).

I was then in the ruined town, there was grief and crying and fire all around. I witnessed an old man on the roof of his flat, trapped by flames creeping towards him from his only safe escape route. He waved and tried to reassure all below that it was fine and not to be sad. He was going to die either from a fall or from the fire.

I sat on a park bench and watched the chaos then, next to me sat Robin Williams as a bedraggled Madam Doubtfire. He comforted me with reassuring words and I rested my weep weary face in his florally frocked lap. 

Then I woke up.

What makes life good.

I don’t just draw weird shit, though I do enjoy it.

I was totally inspired by (/ I have totally stolen this idea from) Scarlett Curtis’s blog because it’s a rather lovely nice idea and I like drawing.
Unexpectedly it was also quite therapeutic; writing down and making an illustration for all the things that make you happy in life, makes you really think about them and that, in turn, makes you feel quite happy.

At first I thought it would be a very tiny list because I tend to lean towards the negatives  but as it turns out, voila, quite a big list! There are still things I wish I’d remembered to put, things such as; ‘the mysteries of the universe’ and ‘ stupid superhero films’. There were also things I left off because they are just obvious like, ‘my friends’ or ‘my family’ or ‘not being in a war torn country’. I guess it is more about the little things that just make your life a little bit better.

Anyway, I really recommend everyone doing this. Doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, just write a list and maybe do a vaguely symbolic doodle. It feels good. Do it. Then show me! I want to see!

makes life good

Dennis, for now

I want to give him a mighty name like ‘Centaur’ or ‘Cockatrice’ or ‘Sphinx’ but I’m too sleepy to think of one majestic enough, so for now he is Dennis.

 

chickenyslug

Dennis has the warrior face of a snail, surrounded by the V05 enhanced mane of a manlion.  His sleek chicken body is carried off onto adventure with sturdy piglet legs. His roar resembles 1000 Tumbling Slinkies and he can lays eggs made of solid mascara. Dennis!

Sexy Rabbit Lady

rabbit lady

I’m in the process of planning cute designs for a mural I am painting in a school library.
I thought about unicorns, they’re cute. Then I thought about other mythical beasts like mermaids and satyrs and then I thought about the unpublicised mythical beasts, the lesser known, crap ones.  

Voila! Number 1.
This sexy lady had picked up common attributes from  a rabbit. But none of this bunny-ear nonsense , no, she has powerful back legs for running and kicking, an average of 8 nipples (for her many young) an acute sense of smell and the ability to nourish herself on nutrients from her excrement. 

She’s one hot mama. (To an average of 300 babies).

 

NB – This, sadly, will not be making it into the school mural.

Boo bloody hoo

I’m having a sucky day and I just tried to submit an audio audition to Pinewood only for it to repeatedly error message me. Apart from when I wrote in my ‘voice description’ “Your website sucks, you bunch of twerps- also, my voice sounds like competence and Ryvita.” So that’s stuck on there now.

I’m going to have to leave London soon. This sucks, I freaking love living here but it’s expensive in the kind of way only imaginable to kids who have no concept of numbers. “How much is the rent?” “twelftytenmazzlionjillian a month.”
Plus I still don’t have a job and the housing benefit people say I don’t actually live here. Because they are actual morons. and rude thieves. I sent them my driving licence as a form of I.D and they lost it. Actually lost it, the didn’t apologise though, just sent me a letter acknowledging they had lost it. Cocks.

Okay, I’m just plain sulking now and no one wants to read a self centred pity fest. Here, have some floppy doodles of people I didn’t see in the park.feed walk